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Letters / Treatment by Post Office Ltd has been ‘beyond a joke’

I own and operate Freefield Post Office in Lerwick. The treatment by Post Office Ltd during this crisis has been beyond a joke.

Post Office Ltd have shouted loudly how they are working hard to protect their post offices and customers, however (in my opinion) nothing could be further from the truth.

Last week on their webpage they stated they had implemented strict cleaning regimes in their branches and their employees were wearing disposable gloves and hand sanitiser was available for both staff and customers. They had not supplied anything, the only support they had provided was a pdf file of a poster showing how to correctly wash hands.

The majority of postmasters across the country had independently implemented strict cleaning rules and protections in their branches. Finally this Tuesday it was announced that they were graciously giving each branch an extra £50 to help towards cleaning materials. However most postmasters feel this is too little too late.

Financially Post Office Ltd made a statement that all offices can access the nationwide business support and they will only be providing normal remuneration which is paid per transaction, therefore if they have to close the branch they will get nothing and with the reduced custom then we will receive only a tiny payment for the risk and effort of opening.

I feel this is a horrendous way to treat their postmasters and branches who are working hard on the front lines.

My financial thoughts: this is relevant to my office, others may be different.

I operate a main post office with three counter positions. My normal remuneration is enough to pay 1.5-2 staff members (just over the minimum wage) and no more. I calculate that on a normal year I lose £6,000 by operating a post office, however it generates footfall into my retail shop (cards, gifts etc), so the retail side benefits and can subsidise the post office.

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However, due to government guidelines my retail side is now being closed, I have furloughed most staff and have agreed to pay my remaining staff their regular pay for working reduced hours in order to operate the post office.

I have calculated (roughly) that by doing this I will personally be earning nothing. I will be losing over £500 per week by continuing to open my post office…however, I am a small business, and I cannot sustain this, these losses come out of my pocket.

If I close, those losses disappear. I can utilise the grant from the government to pay rent etc and furlough my staff so their pay is protected until things can return to normal. Post Office Limited view themselves as a business who need to make a profit, therefore they are only interested in paying us per transaction.

Speaking as a business this is understandable, but it is not reasonable. Post Office Ltd are government owned, if the government want us open, then they are going to have to offer a solution now, not in two weeks or two months.

I cannot ruin myself financially simply because I have a social conscience and feel the community need access to these essential services.

It is unfair for Post Office Ltd and the UK Government to expect me to shoulder this financial burden alone. I feel frustrated, I don’t think it is fair that I have to use the support grant and funding being offered by the government to provide a service to the community at such a high personal cost.

Other ‘non-essential’ businesses don’t have that burden, but we are expected to lose this much money because we are key workers and deemed essential.

Brian Smith
Owner of Freefield Post Office

In response, a spokesperson for Post Office Ltd said:

“We’re very sorry to hear of Mr Smith’s concerns about operating during this coronavirus pandemic. We know that Postmasters are going above and beyond to stay open during this time and we are working hard to ensure they are supported. We are providing our postmasters with all the latest advice from the UK Government as to how to stay safe. Post Offices have been provided with floor markers and other information on posters to help customers stay two metres apart. Additional protective equipment is also being sourced for Postmasters.

“With regards to financial support, we have informed our Postmasters that business rate holidays will be administered by local authorities and that they will get in touch with businesses in their area. We have also informed Postmasters that Government-administered grants are available and that local authorities will again be in contact with information about how to apply for one.

“With regards to remuneration, March variable remuneration payments will not be impacted because they are based on the sales period which finished on 26 February. Fixed remuneration payments are not be impacted at any stage. We are constantly reviewing what additional support can be provided to Postmasters during this period.”

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